Taiwan’s richest person built an $11.7 billion fortune making shoes

  • Zhang Congyuan, Taiwan’s richest person, built an $11.7 billion fortune making shoes for brands like Nike.
  • The 74-year-old is the richest self-made newcomer to Forbes’ list of global billionaires.
  • Zhang came from humble beginnings, starting his first shoe business on a pig farm in Taiwan.

He started his first shoe business on a pig farm. Today, Zhang Congyuan is Taiwan’s richest person and he built his $11.7 billion fortune by making sneakers for some of the world’s biggest brands.

The 74-year-old is also the richest self-made newcomer to this year’s Forbes Global Billionaires list, an annual ranking of the world’s richest people.

As the founder of Huali Industrial Group, Zhang’s company produces footwear for brands such as Nike, Ugg and Vans. Huali produces more than 180 million pairs of shoes a year, according to Bloomberg.

Despite all his success, he maintains a low profile, rarely giving interviews or appearing at public events. Taiwanese media call him the “mysterious shoe king”.

Humble beginnings

Born into a farming family in Taiwan’s Yunlin countryside, Zhang worked in a women’s shoe factory after graduating from an agricultural school, according to Taiwan’s Business Weekly.

He eventually saved enough money to start his own shoe factory in the 1980s, although he had his limitations.

“I didn’t have any money at home so I had to live within my means. People buy good plots of land to build new buildings, I have a pig farm and a farm in the countryside,” he said. he told the magazine in a rare interview last time. year.

Set next to rice paddies in western Taiwan, the pig farm produced quality shoes despite its shabby exteriors, the magazine reported, citing Chiang Wei-lun, an executive at shoebox company Goodbox.

“Zhang spent money on good materials and his equipment was never inferior to anyone else,” Chiang said.

By the late 1980s, Zhang had established several other shoe companies in Taiwan and the southern province of Guangdong in China. The competition was fierce: Guangdong is known as “the factory of the world,” where everything from handbags to shoes to Christmas decorations is made for export.

But Zhang saw an opportunity to stand out, Business Weekly reported. That opportunity was vulcanized shoes – the type of shoes popular with skateboarders for their soft, gummy rubber soles. Even though vulcanized shoes are cheap to produce, the style was not popular with shoemakers at the time because it was unfashionable and advertised low profits.

“Other people in the industry have given up on them, but I just wanted to focus on getting good quality shoes,” Zhang told the magazine.

When these shoes started to become fashionable in the 1990s, Zhang already had a head start and was able to produce them for brands like Vans and Converse. Converse filed for bankruptcy in 2001, but Zhang has maintained a relationship with the brand, according to the magazine. Two years later, when Nike acquired Converse, it was on Converse’s recommendation that Nike worked with Zhang.

Zhang officially established Huali Industrial in 2004 and today has factories in China, Vietnam and Dominica.

Asked about his secret to success, he told Business Weekly that “there is no mystery”.

“To get to the bottom of it, it’s just about whether you have the determination to do better than the rest,” he said.

Insider reached out to Zhang for comment via Huali Group but did not immediately receive a response.

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